Wilderness Hops is agriculture and craft beer in Vermont

Wilderness Hops Vermont
Vermont’s craft beer scene is booming — the number of breweries continues to grow and Vermont is a leading state for breweries per capita.  But the often unseen part of the craft beer explosion is the rest of the supply chain.  Hops, a core ingredient, are now starting to be grown here in Vermont — a perfect opportunity to blend Vermont’s agricultural heritage with the trends in local beer. Today we interviewed Joe & Colleen from Wilderness Hops, an upstart “microfarm” in Vermont.

 

What is Wilderness Hops and how did you get the business started?  What was your background before?
Wilderness Hops is a veteran owned micro farm which is dedicated to providing high quality, locally grown hops to Vermont brewers.  What started as a hobby 3 years ago with a few plants grown off our deck has turned into a mild obsession.  Neither of us come from a farming background so this is a learning process for both of us.  We are developing a 1 acre “incubator hop yard” which will be used to learn and employ proven sustainable farming methods developed by the amazing team of researchers at UVMs NW Crops and Soil.

 

How does growing and harvesting hops in Vermont differ from other climates?
Vermont has a great climate for growing hops.  The number of growing days is slightly lower when compared to the Pacific Northwest but we have great organic mater in our soils and plenty of rain which means less irrigation.  This wet climate doesn’t come without its drawbacks though, these conditions favors diseases such as downy mildew but the team at UVM NE Crops and Soil has been hard at work identifying varieties which are resistant to disease as well as methods to improve the conditions to minimize the risk of infection.  I’ve included some data from the Hop Atlas and UVM’s Feasibility study in case you want more details.

Vermont was once home to a vibrant hop trade through the beginning of the early 1900s because of its great climate.  Despite the shift of production to the pacific northwest, a number of wild hops can still be found growing throughout the state.  Ideal conditions for hop growing are at a latitude between 35‐55 degrees, average temperature from April through September between 10‐19ºC, average precipitation from April through September of 64 ‐569 mm, average daylight during these months between 10‐19 hrs/day, with well draining, sandy loam, which is slightly acidic as the best soil for growing hops.    Vermont meets every one of these parameters.  The average latitude is in the 40’s, the average temperature from April through September 15.5ºC (60ºF), the average precipitation from April through September is 525‐550 mm, the average hours of daylight from April through September is 13.5hrs/day, the Farmland Classifications System for VT Soils highlights Franklin, Addison and Rutland counties as counties with sandy loam soils.  Massachusetts soils in Franklin and Worcester Counties are also known to be well‐drained, sandy loam soils.

 

Who are some of the brewers that you work with and any favorite beers made with your hops?
We are still in the infant stages of growing and the only beers you will find our hops in are our home brews, for now.  To liken our operation to the brewery industry, we are the home brewer who just bought their first kettle. We hope to produce approximately 1500 lbs of hops each year once the plot hits full production.  It is our intent to continue expanding over the coming years in order to deliver high quality, Vermont grown, hops at a quantity which can sustain the booming craft beer industry here in VT.

 

The Vermont craft beer scene is exploding.  What’s your take on the growth in craft beer in Vermont?
Vermont brewers are doing an amazing job perfecting their craft and I think the numbers speak for themselves.  According to the Brewers Association the craft beer industry in VT is a $376.7 million enterprise which supports nearly 1900 jobs.  $126.7 million of that comes from Beer Tourism.  We are super excited for their success and hope we can make the product stand out a little bit more by providing locally grown ingredients.

 

What does the future look like for Wilderness Hops? What are some of the hop types you carry now or plan to carry in the future?
Wilderness Hops will spend the next years dedicated to perfecting our methods and improve the quality and quantity of our product.  We will continue to work closely with some of the local growers such as Mt Philo hops, wicked bines, and homestead hops to support eachother and encourage new farmers.  We currently grow nugget, cascade, and Chinook however we haven’t selected the breeds for the expansion.  If you have a favorite breed that you want to see grown locally, be sure to let us know!

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